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A New Typology for Mountains and Other Relief Classes: An Application to Global Continental Water Resources and Population Distribution

Michel Meybeck, Pamela Green and Charles Vörösmarty
Mountain Research and Development
Vol. 21, No. 1 (Feb., 2001), pp. 34-45
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3674130
Page Count: 12
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A New Typology for Mountains and Other Relief Classes: An Application to Global Continental Water Resources and Population Distribution
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Abstract

A new classification of 15 relief patterns at the global scale combines a relief roughness indicator and the maximum altitude at a resolution of 30′ × 30′. Classical geographic terms have been retained but assigned to fixed relief roughness (RR = maximum minus minimum elevation per cell divided by half the cell length in meters/kilometer, or ‰) and altitude boundaries. Plains ($33.2\ Mkm^{2}$ of currently nonglaciated land surface) correspond to subhorizontal terrain (RR < 5‰). Lowlands (19.2 Mkm; 0-200 m) have a very low degree of roughness (5 $(30.5\ Mkm^{2})$ correspond to the 200-500-m mean elevation class and have a greater degree of roughness (RR > 20‰). Plateaus $(16.8\ Mkm^{2})$, with mean elevations between 500 and 6000 m, have a medium degree of roughness (RR from 5 to 40‰). Mountains $(33.3\ Mkm^{2})$ are differentiated from hills by their higher mean elevation (>500 m) and from plateaus by their greater roughness (>20‰ then >40‰) in each elevation class. Accordingly, Tibet and the Altiplano are very high plateaus, not mountains. These quantitative definitions of relief patterns were divided into 15 classes, then clustered into 9 main types and mapped at the global scale at a resolution for which water runoff depth and population were previously determined. We also differentiated between exorheic areas ($115.6\ Mkm^{2}$ globally) and endorheic areas ($17.36\ Mkm^{2}$ globally) of potential runoff. Mountains thus account for 25% of the Earth's total land area, 32% of surface runoff, and 26% of the global population. The presence or vicinity of a rough and elevated landscape is less limiting to human settlement than water runoff.

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